“Can we be friends?”
You’re sitting three desks in front of me and you keep turning around to catch my attention. I’m ignoring you—I don’t find you funny and I want you to leave me alone. You pass a note back while our teacher goes on about conjugating Italian verbs and I begrudgingly open your note. You want my number, and you tell me its because your dad wants you to be able to ask classmates about homework. I roll my eyes, crumple the note and continue to ignore you.
You’re not cute, but neither am I. It’s the eighth grade; I haven’t learned the art of the hair straightener yet and you don’t know what a razor is. You corner me after class and ask me again for my number—this time, I’m too nervous to say no and I mumble my number quickly and hope you don’t catch it. You do.
“Can we be friends?”
I’m falling in love with you. You sit on the edge of my bed and pull on your shirt, reassuring me that no one will find out about what we’ve been doing. I don’t remember why no one can know, but I also don’t care.
You texted me the night you got my number two years ago, and we’ve talked almost every single day since then. You became my best friend. You cared about me more than anyone ever had, and I began to fall for you.
You scratched your initials in the wet cement outside my house and we ate pizza after we made out for the rest of the afternoon. You were my first kiss and I wanted you to be my first boyfriend, but that’s not what you wanted. Just friends, you said. Just friends.
Can we be friends?
That’s what you’re saying as you break up with me. You sit at my kitchen table and you say you hope we can be friends. You ask me if we can still be friends as you break my heart.
Almost three years to the day earlier, you sat next to me as I folded laundry and asked me if I wanted to date you. It was after I had complained about how we acted like a couple but weren’t actually one. Three years earlier, you had asked me to be your girlfriend and right now, you’re asking me if we can be friends while you break my heart.
I look at you and I try to comprehend what you’re asking but all I can see is your sixteen-year-old face, nervously telling me you loved me for the first time. I can only see you pulling me in for a hug as I cry after getting rejected from my dream school. You’re asking me if we can be friends as I hear the sweet sleepy words you spoke years earlier, promising forever.
I tell you to leave and I watch you go as I also watch my world fall apart and your question still hangs in the air, unspoken. Can we be friends?
“Can we be friends?”
I thought the hardest part of this breakup was not talking to you, but I’m wrong. The hardest part is talking to you and knowing you only want to be friends, that our interactions barely even scratch the surface, that I’m not number one in your life any longer.
Talking to you reminds me just that. Trying to be your friend reminds me how impossible that is. You were the most important person in my life and I hate it. I don’t do past tense well. I hate how I’m expected to talk to you, joke with you, pretend I didn’t have a future planned around you, pretend I didn’t have to rearrange my life when you pulled the rug right out from under my feet.
You always asked the question; you always wanted to be friends.
It was easy for you to erase me from your life, and it was easy for you to decide you wanted me back, and now it’s easy for you to keep me at arms length, away from your heart.
I see your name flash across the screen of my phone and I’m reminded of the way that same sight would make butterflies fly. I see your name and I think of how you’re ingrained in some of my most important memories and how I can’t change that, no matter how badly I wish I could. I see your name and I wonder when you went from being the right person to the wrong person, and why I didn’t notice, and why I’m still wondering. I see your name and I feel numb, so different from how I used to feel. I see your name and I’m reminded that your initials on the sidewalk outside my house faded. That’s funny; I thought they’d be there forever.
You still want to be friends. You still want me in your life, but instead of a starring role, I’ve been demoted to just an extra. I’ve always tried to give you what you wanted, so you want to be friends and I’m your friend.
You’re fourteen years old and you’re trying to get my attention in Italian class and now, nearly seven years later, I’m wishing I had never looked up. Because if I hadn’t, maybe now you still wouldn’t be asking to be my friend.